The collection is the “result of an epic eight-year expedition to rediscover the mountains, deserts and oceans, the animals and peoples that have so far escaped the imprint of modern society – the land and life of a still pristine planet.” It’s been said this is the artist’s call upon the world to preserve what little of untouched nature we have left.
The Brazilian photographer has established himself as one of the most talented in the world. Debbie Meron, of Samy’s Camera, spoke with Mr. Fetterman about the exhibit’s significance to the photography world and Salgado’s technique.
Samy’s Camera: Are you the only American gallery to have “Genesis”?
Peter Fetterman: This is the first U.S. public opening of the work. It’s playing now in five international museums: in London, Toronto, Rome, São Paulo, Lausanne, opens in Paris shortly. [For more on intl. exhibits or to follow Salgado on Twitter click here.]
SC: Where is Salgado now?
PF: He’s in Brazil, just finishing up a project about a tribe of Indians in the Amazon, for the Brazilian government.
SC: Does he have a team with him?
PF: He shoots alone, basically, maybe with one assistant.
SC: How did you become familiar with Mr. Salgado’s work?
PF: Well, I first saw his work in 1984 when the New York Times published it, and then I was in Paris working with Cartier-Bresson and he very kindly introduced me to him.
SC: What’s a little known fact about Salgado that people would find interesting?
PF: Wow, that’s a tough question. I think a lot of his empathy for humanity comes from the fact that he has a son with Down’s Syndrome. I think, as a parent, how hard that must be, I think a lot of his sensitivity to people must stem from living with that situation.
SC: Salgado’s prints are what many would consider a serious investment, ranging as high as $50,000. What makes his work so valuable? What sets him apart from other photographers?
PF: He’s probably the greatest living photographer in the world, so the prices range from, the most part, $8,000 to $20,000, with some of the bigger prints at $50,000. He’s an important artist and there’s a strong demand for his work…When we started working with him 25 years ago the prices were $700-$800.
SC: You’ve attributed his success to his technique.
PF: Well, it’s incredible dedication, and incredible passion, and incredible willingness to put himself through very extreme situations to capture these images…He doesn’t just go into these locations for one day. He’s living with the people he’s photographing and becomes anonymous, living six weeks with them before he takes a single photograph, so he understands the story…most photographers go into a location for a day and leave, that’s why they don’t get the shot.
SC: Has he shared any interesting stories about the time he’s spent with the various peoples he’s captured?
PF: Yeah, for example, when you saw that series on the Nenets, a tribe in this remote part of Siberia, he arrived there with a lot of western outdoor gear, very expensive body protection, outdoor clothes, and none of it was working, so he was freezing cold and couldn’t work. They had a special fur coat, which them gave him so he could become like them and be able to work there in these extreme conditions.
SC: Does he live directly with them or does he set up camp nearby?
PF: He lives with them. He’s got this incredible charisma and empathy, and there’s a sick sense amongst these people, even though they don’t speak the same language, that this is a good man, that this is a special man, that this is someone they let into their lives and their hearts, because they know he’s not going to exploit them.
SC: How have people responded to the exhibit thus far?
PF: I think everyone who has seen the show has been incredibly moved. There’ve been crowds in every major museum it’s playing in now. I think it’s the photo show of our generation in the way “The Family of Man” was in the ‘50s.
SC: What’s your favorite piece in "Genesis"?
PF: That’s very hard to choose. I love the elephant, I think the elephant is extraordinary, I love the penguin [shots], I love the shots of the Nenets tribe in Siberia and I love the cover of the book [an iceberg], it’s biblical.
SC: That iceberg photo is amazing. How long is the exhibit running?
PF: We’re probably going to extend it until the end of the year because it’s been so popular.
For more than 20 years, the Peter Fetterman Gallery has connected Southern California with the works of photographic heavyweights such as Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Steve McCurry, Paul Caponigro, Willy Ronis, Andre Kertesz, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Lillian Bassman, Pentti Sammallahti, Stephen Wilkes and Jeffrey Conley.
The “Genesis” exhibit will run at least until the fall. The Peter Fetterman Gallery, open Tuesday-Saturday, can be found in Santa Monica’s art haven Bergamot Station, located at 2525 Michigan Ave., Gallery A1. More gallery information can be found here.